Belal Muhammad was one of the only fighters on the entire UFC roster who was calling out undefeated prospect Khamzat Chimaev and it turns out he nearly got his wish.
After scoring a dominant win over Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson to move his unbeaten streak to seven fights, Muhammad got the call he wanted with a chance to headline the upcoming UFC London card.
“It’s crazy because it was maybe three or four weeks after my fight, [my manager] Ali [Abdelaziz] called me and said ‘they’re offering Khamzat in London as the main event’ and I was like let’s go, book it,” Muhammad revealed to MMA Fighting. “He’s like ‘you sure you’re down? He’s [ranked] No. 11’ and I [said] I want that fight, let’s go. He said ‘OK but don’t say nothing yet.’
“So then like three or four days later, I’m sitting there messaging my family, they’re looking up tickets to London and getting ready to book and [I said] don’t do nothing yet until we get a contract because you never know.”
It turned out that Muhammad’s family had been smart enough to not book any hotel or air travel in London. That’s when another call came in that threatened the Chimaev battle.
“All of a sudden they call me back and said ‘we have a couple issues,” Muhammad said. “Gilbert [Burns], Vicente [Luque] have been really close friends. They won’t fight one another’. So now we have an issue. It’s going be between you three. They want you to be matched with Luque, Khamzat and Gilbert.
“So he’s like ‘out of those three, which one do you want the most?’ I want Khamzat. That’s who I want the most. You get the most hype from beating a guy like that even though he’s not the highest ranked, and especially getting the chance to headline The O2 arena, I think that would have been huge.”
As strongly as Muhammad felt about fighting Chimaev, the UFC had to look at the bigger picture in the welterweight division with Gilbert Burns and Vicente Luque being close friends who have repeatedly stated that they would not face each other.
Because there were many potential options available, Muhammad soon realized that he probably wasn’t going to get the Chimaev fight no matter how badly he wanted it. Instead, Muhammad now fights Luque in the main event of an upcoming UFC APEX event in Las Vegas on April 16.
“All of a sudden it was like [I’m] going to fight Gilbert, Luque is going to fight Khamzat,” Muhammad said. “It was like all right, whatever, Gilbert is [ranked] No. 2. Then two days later it was, ‘all right it’s you against Luque; and I was like ‘just send me a contract, I don’t care.’
“Obviously, I gain a lot from fighting any one of them out of the three guys. They’re all tough tests anyways so I don’t care which one of the three it is. Let’s go. He said ‘all right, it’s going to be Luque’ so I said ‘sure.'”
Muhammad certainly has motivation to face Luque after falling to him by knockout at UFC 205 back in 2016 but that didn’t satisfy his thirst when it came to the possible showdown with Chimaev.
Because of the sheer amount of attention being paid to Chimaev since he first arrived in the UFC, Muhammad understands that the Chechen-born welterweight is on the fast track to title contention and he may only need one more win to secure a shot at reigning champion Kamaru Usman.
“If I beat Luque and [Khamzat] goes out there and beats Gilbert, they’re going to give him the title shot,” Muhammad said. “If I go out there and beat Gilbert and he beats Luque, they’re going to give [Chimaev] a title shot.
” I don’t wish to be overlooked by him so let me get to him. Fight the guy they all want to see fight [Kamaru] Usman next and they’re all hyping up. I’m like I’d rather just fight that guy next.”
While he didn’t end up with Chimaev as an opponent, Muhammad is still more than happy to headline a UFC card for the second time in his career while hopefully avenging a loss on his resume at the same time.
A win over Luque will still be huge but Muhammad can’t deny that beating Chimaev would have been satisfying as well.
“Khamzat is the guy who talks trash — Luque is just so nice,” Muhammad said with a laugh. “Luque even helped me a couple times for my Wonderboy fight. We sparred.
“It would have been a [more fun] build-up with Khamzat but of course, I’m super happy to fight a guy like Luque, who’s No. 4, who’s on a huge streak, who’s coming off a huge win against [Michael] Chiesa, and a guy that weighed in to be the alternate for the title fight when Colby [Covington] and Usman fought. So the UFC obviously thinks highly of him.”
With Chimaev out of sight and out of mind, Muhammad is eager to make a statement against Luque as he seeks to build even more momentum towards an eventual title shot of his own.
He’ll also get the chance to finally silence doubters who are still questioning if he’s the real deal at the top of the welterweight division.
” I don’t consider it to be a rematch,” Muhammad stated. “I consider it a whole new fight cause I’m a whole new fighter. That’s why I wanted this fight to prove that I’m a whole new fighter and a different fighter. This fight will be completely different. This fight is going to be a different one.
“If I go out there and finish [Luque], beat him, there’s nothing that can deny me as well. Even when I beat [Demian] Maia, they said he’s old. Everybody said he was too old when I defeated Wonderboy. Now I’m fighting a guy that knocked me out, a guy that’s young, a guy that’s knocking everybody out, finishing everybody, I go out and finish him — what excuse can you give now?”